Parental Rights II

By Stefan Sandor

 Parental rights has been a topic of little interest to philosophers and thinkers throughout the ages, perhaps because most societies took for granted that parents have certain rights in regards to rearing and educating their offsprings. It is only recently that we have been confronted with the issue of parental rights and whether parents possess certain fundamental rights in regards to the child-parent relationship. The parental rights issue has come to the forefront primarily with the advent of progressivism and their approach to child education on continental Europe, and more recently in our country. In this section we will address the following questions: Is there such a thing as a parental right? If yes, what does it mean to possess a right, as a parent? Why think that such rights exist? What obligations to parents have towards their children? What is the role of the State, if any, concerning the child-parent relationship? These questions are paramount for our understanding of the moral, social, personal, and political dimensions of the parent-child relationship. More importantly we must also keep in mind that we must be concerned not merely with these theoretical questions but we must also focus our attention on the practical questions in this realm of human life. We will start with several approaches to parental right that are compatible with traditional American values. We will then discuss the progressive view in regards to child-parent relationship and where it goes wrong. But, before we start let us get some preliminary aspects out of the way concerning the concept of right.

When discussing right two notions of right must be distinguished, negative right and positive right. A negative right is a right of non-interference, such as the right to make decisions on behalf of one’s child concerning his/her education without state intervention. A positive right in this context is a right to have the relevant interests one has as a parent in some way promoted by the State. For example some argue that all individuals should have access to healthcare, and that it ought to be funded in part or as a whole by the state. Thus, a right in the broad sense is an acknowledgment and/or respect for certain activities or actions. But when we say that “we have a fundamental right to do such and such” we are invoking more than a mere right. We are invoking a right arising from actions and activities that are inseparable from the human existence and identity of our individuality. It is not merely about what we are free to do, but more about what we are substantively required to do in order to preserve our human existence and identity. Therefore, all unalienable rights are grounded in the obligations and responsibilities pursuant to human self-preservation. We, as humans, are obligated to fulfill these obligations, and every one of us has the right to fulfill those obligations without state interference, provided that the respective behavior is in conformity with the standard of action that constitutes the human existence and identity of each and every one of us. Respect for moral obligations constitute the rightness of a right. Let us start with the traditional approaches to parental rights.

The Traditional Approaches to Parental Rights.

Among the traditional approaches to parental rights the biological connection is one such approach that seeks to ground the rights and obligations of parents either by emphasizing the genetic connection or arguing that gestation is crucial in grounding parental rights. Advocates of the genetic account argue that a particular child’s genetic makeup being derived from the genetic material of an individual or the fact that the child is “tied by blood” to that individual is what yields parental rights and obligations. A individual has rights and obligations with respect to a particular child insofar as that individual and the child share the requisite DNA. This is seen in many of societies where perceived blood ties have been the main factor in determining the rules of inheritance.

Critics of genetic accounts state that this account seems to be flawed in some important ways. For example, if genetic connection is necessary for parental right and obligations, then how must one deal with the relationship between a child and his/her step-parent or adoptive parents? Moreover, what of cases where two identical adult twins have the same genetic connection to a child? It does not seem to follow that both are that child’s parents.

Gestational accounts of parental rights and obligations is another biological account that claims gestation is necessary for parental rights. On this view, men merely acquire parental rights and obligations via marriage, i.e. the gestational mother consenting to co-parenthood with the male. The argument focuses on the risk, effort, and discomfort that biological mothers undergo during their pregnancy as that which grounds their claims to parenthood. Proponents of this account also maintain that the intimacy obtained during the gestational period and the attachment which occurs during the respective period between the child and the mother is the basis for a claim to parenthood. The gestational account with its preference for gestational mothers would increase a women’s social standing by emphasizing their freedom to make choices on behalf of the child, e.g. medical or health decisions of themselves and their children.

Critics of the gestation account argue that it is objectionably counterintuitive, since it belies the intuitive belief that mothers and fathers have equal rights and obligations regarding their children. For example, many of the benefits and goods available to individuals via parenthood, including intimacy, meaning, and satisfaction that can be obtained in the child-parent relationship, are equally available to both mothers and fathers. It would seem, that this equality of parental interests, then, would justify the conclusion that both the father’s and mother’s presumptive claims to parenthood are of equal weight.

The biological account of parental rights points to the fact that biology is essential to the value of parenthood for human beings. The activities of creating, bearing, and rearing a child are thought to be a single process with inseparable parts which is  valuable to parents inasmuch as they seek to create a person who in some sense reflects a part of themselves. The aim is to create someone else in the image of one’s self. It is precisely why being a father or a mother has value for us, it is why we desire it. Arguably, these selfish values apparent in the biological connection are morally significant in other ways. In principle, biological parents are more willing to sacrifice their time, property, and life for the wellbeing of the child. The biological connection between the parent and the child  seems to make a more persistent claim on the love given to a child. They have a vested interest in the wellbeing of the child since there are in a sense their self-image or copy of themselves. Biological connection is also crucial in that the knowledge of one’s biological relatives, or one’s parents, plays an important role in one’s self knowledge and psychological wellbeing. The self-knowledge one gains from knowing their biological parents is central in molding a meaningful human life. It follows, then, that lack of such knowledge is harmful to children.

To be continued………